BETHLEHEM The Bethlehem Central School District saved more money than expected by consolidating bus stops and operating buses at fuller capacities, according to district officials.
Transportation Director Al Karam and Chief Business and Financial Officer Judi Kehoe told school board members at a Wednesday, Oct. 17, meeting the changes are expected to save the district between $500,000 to $800,000. Conservative estimates last spring called for a $125,000 savings.
The majority of the saving came from eliminating bus drivers.
“We heard parents loud and clear, and this year they said they wanted to do what was possible to save educational programs,” said Karam in a later interview. “This was sort of the tradeoff.”
The decision to change bus routes was made as part of the 2012-13 budget as a cost-saving measure. Walking distances were changed for all students and bus stops were consolidated so buses no longer stopped at each home. A similar consolidation was put in place at the start of the 2010-11 school year, but a significant number of routes were added back after pushback from the community.
Though there were complaints at the beginning of this school year, school officials are largely sticking to the plan. The majority of calls to the district were about buses being too cramped for students. In order to make sure buses were running at full capacity, students in kindergarten to fifth grade are now sitting three-to-a-seat in most cases. Other parents were concerned that some bus stops were in unsafe locations.
To address concerns, some stops were moved and routes were added back, but most of the changes stayed. If parents felt uneasy about the bus stop location, they were asked to walk their children to the bus stop and wait with them.
“That was I think difficult for many parents to come to terms with, because it hadn’t been like that in the past,” said Kehoe.